The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Losing focus in Somalia?

In recent weeks pirates operating off the coast of Somalia in the strategic Gulf of Aden and further south towards Kenya have caught the attention of the international community. But following the rescue of an American merchant captain that resulted in Navy Seals killing three pirates, the pirates have continued their attacks on ships sailing in the region, and many doubt the US navy can win the fight. The recent debate about how to address the growing problem of piracy has also led many back to the real issue at hand, what to do with the Somali state.

Senator Russ Feingold, chairman of the Senate’s subcommittee on African affairs, wrote a letter to President Obama calling for a comprehensive strategy to address the beleaguered transitional government led by Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed. Mr. Feingold said, “People are talking about this as a piracy issue…that is not the core issue here. It is a symptom of a disunified government.”

Yesterday, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton presented a four-point plan in order to tackle piracy in the Gulf of Aden. The plan includes sending a US envoy to the Somalia peacekeeping and development meeting, the scheduling of immediate meetings with the International Contact Group on Piracy to plan a multinational response to the issue, and the creation of a task force team to speak with the Somali government and regional leaders about taking action against the pirates whose bases reside in their territory. The fourth step was to create a team that will work with shippers and the insurance industry to improve their own self-defense measures.

The fact that only one of the four points addresses the Somali government suggests that the US might be seeking to address the symptoms of problem, piracy, rather than the “core issue”, the Somali state. With ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it seems unlikely that the United States Government will take concrete action to address the ongoing crisis in Somalia. Yet if there ever was a time to seek international support on the issue of Somalia, it is now. It remains to be seen whether this new spotlight on Somalia will convince policy makers to address Somalia’s internal problems, and ensure that civilians do not continue to be caught up in a violent conflict while the world looks on.

Looking Behind and Beyond the Recent LRA Massacres

As the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) wreaks havoc while fleeing a joint-offensive launched by Uganda, DR Congo, and South Sudan, the one thing that’s clear is that the peace process is over between the leaders of the LRA and the government of Uganda.  LRA fighters have looted and pillaged almost everything in their path, resorting to their traditional recruitment techniques of abducting children and mutilating victims to instill fear in future recruits.  The rebels even reportedly hacked to death 45 people in a church in northeastern DRC on Christmas day.  Recently released statistics from the UN just begin to reveal the devastating effects of the offensive– since October the LRA has killed over 537 people and kidnapped 408, many of whom are children. 

Yet one must remember that outside of LRA leadership, many soldiers themselves were abducted as children and have lived trauma-filled lives of solitude and forced conscription. Furthermore, the conflicting ideologies and goals of LRA leadership and its soldiers make solving the problem far more complicated than capturing the elusive Joseph Kony. With their recent attempt to catch the LRA leader, it apears that the three regional governments are missing, –or ignoring – the point.

The joint offensive launched December 14, 2008 came after Kony failed again to sign a peace deal to end his rebellion against the Ugandan government.  The Juba peace process, which began in June 2006, represented an earnest attempt to end 22 years of conflict and instability in Northern Uganda. While it succeeded in producing five protocols in 21 months, it ultimately was a failure.  Joseph Kony and his inner circle’s fear of International Criminal Court (ICC) indictments was not addressed adequately by Uganda, among other things, prompting Kony to spoil the latest meeting scheduled to sign the peace deal.

What is being overlooked here, in the face of such large-scale killing and human rights violations, is the need to re-examine strategies for achieving peace in Northern Uganda. In fact, it appears that Joseph Kony may not be as relevant to the peace process as is widely thought.   Many report that Kony does not represent the majority of his soldiers, most of whom are abducted Sudanese civilians and have their own agendas and grievances.  He certainly does not represent the Northern Ugandans who have their own justified complaints of marginalization and victimization by President Museveni’s National Resistance Army party. In the end, he appears to have little backing from any group he claims as his constituents.  Yet until the grievances of Northern Uganda’s population have been addressed by Kampala, and accountability for the heinous war crimes committed over the past two decades comes to fruition, the LRA will likely remain, with or without Kony, a viable option for frustrated Ugandans.

– Will Craigen